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  • 1872
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Wednesday, December 15th.–Ten o’clock. —————————————————-

“Dearest Natalie–As the brute insists, the brute must have the invitation which I inclose. Never mind, my child. You and Launce are coming to dinner, and I will see that you have your little private opportunities of retirement afterward. All I expect of you in return is, _not_ to look (when you come back) as if your husband had been kissing you. You will certainly let out the secret of those stolen kisses, if you don’t take care. At mamma’s dinner yesterday, your color (when you came out of the conservatory) was a sight to see. Even your shoulders were red! They are charming shoulders, I know, and men take the strangest fancies sometimes. But, my dear, suppose you wear a chemisette next time, if you haven’t authority enough over him to prevent his doing it again!

“Your affectionate LOUISA.”

The private history of the days that had passed since the marriage
was written in that letter. An additional chapter–of some importance in its bearing on the future–was contributed by the progress of events at Lady Winwood’s party.

By previous arrangement with Natalie, the Graybrookes (invited to dinner) arrived early. Leaving her husband and her stepdaughters to entertain Sir Joseph and Miss Lavinia, Lady Winwood took Natalie into her own boudoir, which communicated by a curtained opening with the drawing-room.

“My dear, you are looking positively haggard this evening. Has anything happened?”

“I am nearly worn out, Louisa. The life I am leading is so unendurable that, if Launce pressed me, I believe I should consent to run away with him when we leave your house tonight.”

“You will do nothing of the sort, if you please. Wait till you are sixteen. I delight in novelty, but the novelty of appearing at the Old Bailey is beyond my ambition. Is the brute coming to-night?”

“Of course. He insists on following me wherever I go. He lunched at Muswell Hill today. More complaints of my incomprehensible coldness to him. Another scolding from papa. A furious letter from Launce. If I let Richard kiss my hand again in his presence, Launce warns me he will knock him down. Oh, the meanness and the guiltiness of the life I am leading now! I am in the falsest of all false positions, Louisa, and you encouraged me to do it. I believe Richard Turlington suspects us. The last two times Launce and I tried to get a minute together at my aunt’s, he contrived to put himself in our way. There he was, my dear, with his scowling face, looking as if he longed to kill Launce. Can you do anything for us tonight? Not on my account. But Launce is so impatient. If he can’t say two words to me alone this evening, he declares he will come to Muswell Hill, and catch me in the garden tomorrow.”

“Compose yourself, my dear; he shall say his two words to-night.”

“How?”

Lady Winwood pointed through the curtained entrance of the boudoir to the door of the drawing-room. Beyond the door was the staircase landing. And beyond the landing was a second drawing- room, the smaller of the two.

“There are only three or four people coming to dinner,” her ladyship proceeded; “and a few more in the evening. Being a small party, the small drawing-room will do for us. This drawing-room will not be lighted, and there will be only my reading-lamp here in the boudoir. I shall give the signal for leaving the dining-room earlier than usual. Launce will join us before the evening party begins. The moment he appears, send him in here–boldly before your aunt and all of us.”

“For what?”

“For your fan. Leave it there under the sofa-cushion before we go down to dinner. You will sit next to Launce, and you will give him private instructions not to find the fan. You will get impatient–you will go to find it yourself–and there you are. Take care of your shoulders, Mrs. Linzie! I have nothing more to say.”

The guests asked to dinner began to arrive. Lady Winwood was recalled to her duties as mistress of the house.

It was a pleasant little dinner–with one drawback. It began too late. The ladies only reached the small drawing-room at ten minutes to ten. Launce was only able to join them as the clock struck.

“Too late!” whispered Natalie. “He will be here directly.”

“Nobody comes punctually to an evening party,” said Launce. “Don’t let us lose a moment. Send me for your fan.”

Natalie opened her lips to say the necessary words. Before she could speak, the servant announced–“Mr. Turlington.”

He came in, with his stiffly-upright shirt collar and his loosely-fitting glossy black clothes. He made his sullen and clumsy bow to Lady Winwood. And then he did, what he had done dozens of times already–he caught Natalie, with her eyes still bright and her face still animated (after talking to Launce)–a striking contrast to the cold and unimpulsive young lady whom he was accustomed to see while Natalie was talking to _him_.

Lord Winwood’s daughters were persons of some celebrity in the world of amateur music. Noticing the look that Turlington cast at Launce, Lady Winwood whispered to Miss Lavinia–who instantly asked the young ladies to sing. Launce, in obedience to a sign from Natalie, volunteered to find the music-books. It is needless to add that he pitched on the wrong volume at starting. As he lifted it from the piano to take it back to the stand, there dropped out from between the leaves a printed letter, looking like a circular. One of the young ladies took it up, and ran her eye over it, with a start.

“The Sacred Concerts!” she exclaimed.

Her two sisters, standing by, looked at each other guiltily: “What will the Committee say to us? We entirely forgot the meeting last month.”

“Is there a meeting this month?”

They all looked anxiously at the printed letter.

“Yes! The twenty-third of December. Put it down in your book, Amelia.” Amelia, then and there, put it down among the engagements for the latter end of the month. And Natalie’s unacknowledged husband placidly looked on.

So did the merciless irony of circumstances make Launce the innocent means of exposing his own secret to discovery. Thanks to his success in laying his hand on the wrong music-book, there would now be a meeting–two good days before the elopement could take place–between the lord’s daughters and the rector’s wife!

The guests of the evening began to appear by twos and threes. The gentlemen below stairs left the dinner-table, and joined them.

The small drawing-room was pleasantly filled, and no more. Sir Joseph Graybrooke, taking Turlington’s hand, led him eagerly to their host. The talk in the dining-room had turned on finance. Lord Winwood was not quite satisfied with some of his foreign investments; and Sir Joseph’s “dear Richard” was the very man to give him a little sound advice. The three laid their heads together in a corner. Launce (watching them) slyly pressed Natalie’s hand. A renowned “virtuoso” had arrived, and was thundering on the piano. The attention of the guests generally was absorbed in the performance. A fairer chance of sending Launce for the fan could not possibly have offered itself. While the financial discussion was still proceeding, the married lovers were ensconced together alone in the boudoir.

Lady Winwood (privately observant of their absence) kept her eye on the corner, watching Richard Turlington.

He was talking earnestly–with his back toward the company. He neither moved nor looked round. It came to Lord Winwood’s turn to speak. He preserved the same position, listening. Sir Joseph took up the conversation next. Then his attention wandered–he knew beforehand what Sir Joseph would say. His eyes turned anxiously toward the place in which he had left Natalie. Lord Winwood said a word. His head turned back again toward the corner. Sir Joseph put an objection. He glanced once more over his shoulder–this time at the place in which Launce had been standing. The next moment his host recalled his attention, and made it impossible for him to continue his scrutiny of the room. At the same times two among the evening guests, bound for another party, approached to take leave of the lady of the house. Lady Winwood was obliged to rise, and attend to them. They had something to say to her before they left, and they said it at terrible length, standing so as to intercept her view of the proceedings of the enemy. When she had got rid of them at last, she looked–and behold Lord Winwood and Sir Joseph were the only occupants of the corner!

Delaying one moment, to set the “virtuoso” thundering once more, Lady Winwood slipped out of the room and crossed the landing. At the entrance to the empty drawing-room she heard Turlington’s voice, low and threatening, in the boudoir. Jealousy has a Second Sight of its own. He had looked in the right place at starting–and, oh heavens! he had caught them.

Her ladyship’s courage was beyond dispute; but she turned pale as she approached the entrance to the boudoir.

There stood Natalie–at once angry and afraid–between the man to whom she was ostensibly engaged, and the man to whom she was actually married. Turlington’s rugged
face expressed a martyrdom of suppressed fury. Launce–in the act of offering Natalie her fan–smiled, with the cool superiority of a man who knew that he had won his advantage, and who triumphed in knowing it.

“I forbid you to take your fan from that man’s hands,” said Turlington, speaking to Natalie, and pointing to Launce.

“Isn’t it rather too soon to begin ‘forbidding’?” asked Lady Winwood, good-humoredly.

“Exactly what I say!” exclaimed Launce. “It seems necessary to remind Mr. Turlington that he is not married to Natalie yet!”

Those last words were spoken in a tone which made both the women tremble inwardly for results. Lady Winwood took the fan from Launce with one hand, and took Natalie’s arm with the other.

“There is your fan, my dear,” she said, in her easy off-hand manner. “Why do you allow these two barbarous men to keep you here while the great Bootmann is playing the Nightmare Sonata in the next room? Launce! Mr. Turlington! follow me, and learn to be musical directly! You have only to shut your eyes, and you will fancy you hear four modern German composers playing, instead of one, and not the ghost of a melody among all the four. “She led the way out with Natalie, and whispered, “Did he catch you?” Natalie whispered back, “I heard him in time. He only caught us looking for the fan.” The two men waited behind to have two words together alone in the boudoir.

“This doesn’t end here, Mr. Linzie!”

Launce smiled satirically. “For once I agree with you,” he answered. “It doesn’t end here, as you say.”

Lady Winwood stopped, and looked back at them from the drawing- room door. They were keeping her waiting–they had no choice but to follow the mistress of the house.

Arrived in the next room, both Turlington and Launce resumed their places among the guests with the same object in view. As a necessary result of the scene in the boudoir, each had his own special remonstrance to address to Sir Joseph. Even here, Launce was beforehand with Turlington. He was the first to get possession of Sir Joseph’s private ear. His complaint took the form of a protest against Turlington’s jealousy, and an appeal for a reconsideration of the sentence which excluded him from Muswell Hill. Watching them from a distance, Turlington’s suspicious eye detected the appearance of something unduly confidential in the colloquy between the two. Under cover of the company, he stole behind them and listened.

The great Bootmann had arrived at that part of the Nightmare Sonata in which musical sound, produced principally with the left hand, is made to describe, beyond all possibility of mistake, the rising of the moon in a country church-yard and a dance of Vampires round a maiden’s grave. Sir Joseph, having no chance against the Vampires in a whisper, was obliged to raise his voice to make himself audible in answering and comforting Launce. “I sincerely sympathize with you,” Turlington heard him say; “and Natalie feels about it as I do. But Richard is an obstacle in our way. We must look to the consequences, my dear boy, supposing Richard found us out.” He nodded kindly to his nephew; and, declining to pursue the subject, moved away to another part of the room.

Turlington’s jealous distrust, wrought to the highest pitch of irritability for weeks past, instantly associated the words he had just heard with the words spoken by Launce in the boudoir, which had reminded him that he was not married to Natalie yet. Was there treachery at work under the surface? and was the object to persuade weak Sir Joseph to reconsider his daughter’s contemplated marriage in a sense favorable to Launce? Turlington’s blind suspicion overleaped at a bound all the manifest improbabilities which forbade such a conclusion as this. After an instant’s consideration with himself, he decided on keeping his own counsel, and on putting Sir Joseph’s good faith then and there to a test which he could rely on as certain to take Natalie’s father by surprise.

“Graybrooke!”

Sir Joseph started at the sight of his future son-in-law’s face.

“My dear Richard, you are looking very strangely! Is the heat of the room too much for you?”

“Never mind the heat! I have seen enough to-night to justify me in insisting that your daughter and Launcelot Linzie shall meet no more between this and the day of my marriage.” Sir Joseph attempted to speak. Turlington declined to give him the opportunity. “Yes! yes! your opinion of Linzie isn’t mine, I know. I saw you as thick as thieves together just now.” Sir Joseph once more attempted to make himself heard. Wearied by Turlington’s perpetual complaints of his daughter and his nephew, he was sufficiently irritated by this time to have reported what Launce had actually said to him if he had been allowed the chance. But Turlington persisted in going on. “I cannot prevent Linzie from being received in this house, and at your sister’s,” he said; “but I can keep him out of _my_ house in the country, and to the country let us go. I propose a change in the arrangements. Have you any engagement for the Christmas holidays?”

He paused, and fixed his eyes attentively on Sir Joseph. Sir Joseph, looking a little surprised, replied briefly that he had no engagement.

“In that case, “resumed Turlington, “I invite you all to Somersetshire, and I propose that the marriage shall take place from my house, and not from yours. Do you refuse?”

“It is contrary to the usual course of proceeding in such cases, Richard,” Sir Joseph began.

“Do you refuse?” reiterated Turlington. “I tell you plainly, I shall place a construction of my own upon your motive if you do.”

“No, Richard,” said Sir Joseph, quietly, “I accept.”

Turlington drew back a step in silence. Sir Joseph had turned the tables on him, and had taken _him_ by surprise.

“It will upset several plans, and be strongly objected to by the ladies,” proceeded the old gentleman. “But if nothing less will satisfy you, I say, Yes! I shall have occasion, when we meet to- morrow at Muswell Hill, to appeal to your indulgence under circumstances which may greatly astonish you. The least I can do, in the meantime, is to set an example of friendly sympathy and forbearance on my side. No more now, Richard. Hush! the music!”

It was impossible to make him explain himself further that night. Turlington was left to interpret Sir Joseph’s mysterious communication with such doubtful aid to success as his own unassisted ingenuity might afford.

The meeting of the next day at Muswell Hill had for its object– as Turlington had already been informed–the drawing of Natalie’s marriage-settlement. Was the question of money at the bottom of Sir Joseph’s contemplated appeal to his indulgence? He thought of his commercial position. The depression in the Levant trade still continued. Never had his business at any previous time required such constant attention, and repaid that attention with so little profit. The Bills of Lading had been already used by the firm, in the ordinary course of trade, to obtain possession of the goods. The duplicates in the hands of Bulpit Brothers were literally waste paper. Repayment of the loan of forty thousand pounds (with interest) was due in less than a month’s time. There was his commercial position! Was it possible that money-loving Sir Joseph had any modification to propose in the matter of his daughter’s dowry? The bare dread that it might be so struck him cold. He quitted the house–and forgot to wish Natalie goodnight.

Meanwhile, Launce had left the evening party before him–and Launce also found matter for serious reflection presented to his mind before he slept that night. In other words, he found, on reaching his lodgings, a letter from his brother marked “private.” Had the inquiry into the secrets of Turlington’s early life–now prolonged over some weeks–led to positive results at last? Launce eagerly opened the letter. It contained a Report and a Summary. He passed at once to the Summary, and read these words:

“If you only want moral evidence to satisfy your own mind, your end is gained. There is, morally, no doubt that Turlington and the sea-captain who cast the foreign sailor overboard to drown are on e and the same man. Legally, the matter is beset by difficulties, Turlington having destroyed all provable connection between his present self and his past life. There is only one chance for us. A sailor on board the ship (who was in his master’s secrets) is supposed to be still living (under his master’s protection). All the black deeds of Turlington’s early life are known to this man. He can prove the facts, if we can find him, and make it worth his while to speak. Under what alias he is hidden we do not know. His own name is Thomas Wildfang. If we are to make the attempt to find him, not a moment is to be lost. The expenses may be serious. Let me know whether we are to go on, or whether enough has been done to attain the end you have in view.”

Enough had been done–not only to satisfy Launce, but to produce the right effect on Sir Joseph’s mind if Sir Joseph proved obdurate when the secret of the marriage was revealed. Launce wrote a line directing the stoppage of the proceedings at the point which they had now reached. “Here is a reason for her not marrying Turlington,” he said to himself, as he placed the papers under lock and key. “And if she doesn’t marry Turlington,” he added, with a lover’s logic, “why shouldn’t she marry Me?”

EIGHTH SCENE.

The Library.

The next day Sir Joseph Graybrooke, Sir Joseph’s lawyer, Mr. Dicas (highly respectable and immensely rich), and Richard Turlington were assembled in the library at Muswell Hill, to discuss the question of Natalie’s marriage settlement.

After the usual preliminary phrases had been exchanged, Sir Joseph showed some hesitation in openly approaching the question which the little party of three had met to debate. He avoided his lawyer’s eye; and he looked at Turlington rather uneasily.

“Richard,” he began at last, “when I spoke to you about your marriage, on board the yacht, I said I would give my daughter–” Either his courage or his breath failed him at that point. He was obliged to wait a moment before he could go on.

“I said I would give my daughter half my fortune on her marriage,” he resumed. “Forgive me, Richard. I can’t do it!”

Mr. Dicas, waiting for his instructions, laid down his pen and looked at Sir Joseph’s son-in-law elect. What would Mr. Turlington say?

He said nothing. Sitting opposite the window, he rose when Sir Joseph spoke, and placed himself at the other side of the table, with his back to the light.

“My eyes are weak this morning,” he said, in an unnaturally low tone of voice. “The light hurts them.”

He could find no more plausible excuse than that for concealing his face in shadow from the scrutiny of the two men on either side of him. The continuous moral irritation of his unhappy courtship–a courtship which had never advanced beyond the frigid familiarity of kissing Natalie’s hand in the presence of others– had physically deteriorated him. Even _his_ hardy nerves began to feel the long strain of suspicion that had been laid unremittingly on them for weeks past. His power of self-control– he knew it himself–was not to be relied on. He could hide his face: he could no longer command it.

“Did you hear what I said, Richard?”

“I heard. Go on.”

Sir Joseph proceeded, gathering confidence as he advanced.

“Half my fortune!” he repeated. “It’s parting with half my life; it’s saying good-by forever to my dearest friend! My money has been such a comfort to me, Richard; such a pleasant occupation for my mind. I know no reading so interesting and so instructive as the reading of one’s Banker’s Book. To watch the outgoings on one side,” said Sir Joseph, with a gentle and pathetic solemnity, “and the incomings on the other–the sad lessening of the balance at one time, and the cheering and delightful growth of it at another–what absorbing reading! The best novel that ever was written isn’t to be mentioned in a breath with it. I can not, Richard, I really can _not_, see my nice round balance shrink up to half the figure that I have been used to for a lifetime. It may be weak of me,” proceeded Sir Joseph, evidently feeling that it was not weak of him at all, “but we all have our tender place, and my Banker’s Book is mine. Besides, it isn’t as if you wanted it. If you wanted it, of course–but you don’t want it. You are a rich man; you are marrying my dear Natalie for love, not for money. You and she and my grandchildren will have it all at my death. It _can_ make no difference to you to wait a few years till the old man’s chair at the fireside is empty. Will you say the fourth part, Richard, instead of the half? Twenty thousand,” pleaded Sir Joseph, piteously. “I can bear twenty thousand off. For God’s sake don’t ask me for more!”

The lips of the lawyer twisted themselves sourly into an ironical smile. He was quite as fond of his money as Sir Joseph. He ought to have felt for his client; but rich men have no sympathy with one another. Mr. Dicas openly despised Sir Joseph.

There was a pause. The robin-redbreasts in the shrubbery outside must have had prodigious balances at their bankers; they hopped up on the window-sill so fearlessly; they looked in with so little respect at the two rich men.

“Don’t keep me in suspense, Richard,” proceeded Sir Joseph. “Speak out. Is it yes or no?”

Turlington struck his hand excitedly on the table, and burst out on a sudden with the answer which had been so strangely delayed.

“Twenty thousand with all my heart!” he said. “On this condition, Graybrooke, that every farthing of it is settled on Natalie, and on her children after her. Not a half-penny to me!” he cried magnanimously, in his brassiest tones. “Not a half- penny to me!”

Let no man say the rich are heartless. Sir Joseph seized his son-in-law’s hand in silence, and burst into tears.

Mr. Dicas, habitually a silent man, uttered the first two words that had escaped him since the business began. “Highly creditable,” he said, and took a note of his instructions on the spot.

From that point the business of the settlement flowed smoothly on to its destined end. Sir Joseph explained his views at the fullest length, and the lawyer’s pen kept pace with him. Turlington, remaining in his place at the table, restricted himself to a purely passive part in the proceedings. He answered briefly when it was absolutely necessary to speak, and he agreed with the two elders in everything. A man has no attention to place at the disposal of other people when he stands at a crisis in his life. Turlington stood at that crisis, at the trying moment when Sir Joseph’s unexpected proposal pressed instantly for a reply. Two merciless alternatives confronted him. Either he must repay the borrowed forty thousand pounds on the day when repayment was due, or he must ask Bulpit Brothers to grant him an extension of time, and so inevitably provoke an examination into the fraudulent security deposited with the firm, which could end in but one way. His last, literally his last chance, after Sir Joseph had diminished the promised dowry by one half, was to adopt the high-minded tone which became his position, and to conceal the truth until he could reveal it to his father-in-law in the privileged character of Natalie’s husband. “I owe forty thousand pounds, sir, in a fortnight’s time, and I have not got a farthing of my own. Pay for me, or you will see your son-in- law’s name in the Bankrupt’s List.” For his daughter’s sake–who could doubt it?–Sir Joseph would produce the money. The one thing needful was to be married in time. If either by accident or treachery Sir Joseph was led into deferring the appointed day, by so much as a fortnight only, the fatal “call” would come, and the firm of Pizzituti, Turlington & Branca would appear in the Gazette.

So he reasoned, standing on the brink of the terrible discovery which was soon to reveal to him that Natalie was the wife of another man.

“Richard!”

“Mr. Turlington!”

He started, and roused his attention to present things. Sir Joseph on one side, and the lawyer on the other, were both appealing to him, and both regarding him with looks of amazement.

“Have you done with the settlement?” he asked.

“My dear Richard, we have done with it long since, ” replied Sir Joseph. “Have you really not heard what I have been saying for the last quarter of an hour to good Mr. Dicas here? What _can_ you have been thinking of?”

Turlington did not attempt to answer the question. “Am I interested,” he asked, “in what you have been saying to Mr. Dicas?”

“You shall judge for yourself,” answered Sir Joseph, mysteriously; “I have been giving Mr. Dicas his instructions for making my Will. I wish the Will and the Marriage-Settlement to be executed at the same time. Read the instructions, Mr. Dicas.”

Sir Joseph’s contemplated Will proved to have two merits–it was simple and it was short. Excepting one or two trifling legacies to distant relatives, he had no one to think of (Miss Lavinia being already provided for) but his daughter and the children who might be born of her marriage. In its various provisions, made with these two main objects in view, the Will followed the precedents established in such cases. It differed in no important respect from the tens of thousands of other wills made under similar circumstances. Sir Joseph’s motive in claiming special attention for it still remained unexplained, when Mr. Dicas reached the clause devoted to the appointment of executors and trustees; and announced that this portion of the document was left in blank.

“Sir Joseph Graybrooke, are you prepared to name the persons whom you appoint?” asked the lawyer.

Sir Joseph rose, apparently for the purpose of giving special importance to the terms in which he answered his lawyer’s question.

“I appoint,” he said, “as sole executor and trustee–Richard Turlington.”

It was no easy matter to astonish Mr. Dicas. Sir Joseph’s reply absolutely confounded him. He looked across the table at his client and delivered himself on this special occasion of as many as three words.

“Are you mad?” he asked.

Sir Joseph’s healthy complexion slightly reddened. “I never was in more complete possession of myself, Mr. Dicas, than at this moment.”

Mr. Dicas was not to be silenced in that way.

“Are you aware of what you do,” persisted the lawyer, “if you appoint Mr. Turlington as sole executor and trustee? You put it in the power of your daughter’s husband, sir, to make away with every farthing of your money after your death.”

Turlington had hitherto listened with an appearance of interest in the proceedings, which he assumed as an act of politeness. To his view, the future was limited to the date at which Bulpit Brothers had a right to claim the repayment of their loan. The Will was a matter of no earthly importance to him, by comparison with the infinitely superior interest of the Marriage. It was only when the lawyer’s brutally plain language forced his attention to it that the question of his pecuniary interest in his father-in-law’s death assumed its fit position in his mind.

_His_ color rose; and _he_ too showed that he was offended by what Mr. Dicas had just said.

“Not a word, Richard! Let me speak for you as well as for myself,” said Sir Joseph. “For seven years past,” he continued, turning to the lawyer, “I have been accustomed to place the most unlimited trust in Richard Turlington. His disinterested advice has enabled me largely to increase my income, without placing a farthing of the principal in jeopardy. On more than one occasion, I have entreated him to make use of my money in his business. He has invariably refused to do so. Even his bitterest enemies, sir, have been obliged to acknowledge that my interests were safe when committed to his care. Am I to begin distrusting him, now that I am about to give him my daughter in marriage? Am I to leave it on record that I doubt him for the first time–when my Will is opened after my death? No! I can confide the management of the fortune which my child will inherit after me to no more competent or more honorable hands than the hands of the man who is to marry her. I maintain my appointment, Mr. Dicas! I persist in placing the whole responsibility under my Will in my son-in-law’s care.”

Turlington attempted to speak. The lawyer attempted to speak. Sir Joseph–with a certain simple dignity which had its effect on both of them–declined to hear a word on either side. “No, Richard! as long as I am alive this is my business, not yours. No, Mr. Dicas! I understand that it is your business to protest professionally. You have protested. Fill in the blank space as I have told you. Or leave the instructions on the table, and I will send for the nearest solicitor to complete them in your place.”

Those words placed the lawyer’s position plainly before him. He had no choice but to do as he was bid, or to lose a good client. He did as he was bid, and grimly left the room

Sir Joseph, with old-fashioned politeness, followed him as far as the hall. Returning to the library to say a few friendly words before finally dismissing the subject of the Will, he found himself seized by the arm, and dragged without ceremony, in Turlington’s powerful grasp, to the window.

“Richard!” he exclaimed, “what does this mean?”

“Look!” cried the other, pointing through the window to a grassy walk in the grounds, bounded on either side by shrubberies, and situated at a little distance from the house. “Who is that man?– quick! before we lose sight of him–the man crossing there from one shrubbery to the other?” Sir Joseph failed to recognize the figure before it disappeared. Turlington whispered fiercely, close to his ear–“Launcelot Linzie!”

In perfect good faith Sir Joseph declared that the man could not possibly have been Launce. Turlington’s frenzy of jealous suspicion was not to be so easily calmed. He asked significantly for Natalie. She was reported to be walking in the grounds. “I knew it!” he said, with an oath–and hurried out into the grounds to discover the truth for himself.

Some little time elapsed before he came back to the house. He had discovered Natalie–alone. Not a sign of Launce had rewarded his search. For the hundredth time he had offended Natalie. For the hundredth time he was compelled to appeal to the indulgence of her father and her aunt. “It won’t happen again,” he said, sullenly penitent. “You will find me quite another man when I have got you all at my house in the country. Mind!” he burst out, with a furtive look, which expressed his inveterate distrust of Natalie and of every one about her. “Mind! it’s settled that you all come to me in Somersetshire, on Monday next.” Sir Joseph answered rather dryly that it was settled. Turlington turned to leave the room–and suddenly came back. “It’s understood,” he went on, addressing Miss Lavinia, “that the seventh of next month is the date fixed for the marriage. Not a day later!” Miss Lavinia replied, rather dryly on her side, “Of course, Richard; not a day later. “He muttered, “All right” and hurriedly left them.

Half an hour afterward Natalie came in, looking a little confused.

“Has he gone?” she asked, whispering to her aunt.

Relieved on this point, she made straight for the library–a room which she rarely entered at that or any other period of the day. Miss Lavinia followed her, curious to know what it meant. Natalie hurried to the window, and waved her handkerchief– evidently making a signal to some one outside. Miss Lavinia instantly joined her, and took her sharply by the hand.

“Is it possible, Natalie?” she asked. “Has Launcelot Linzie really been here, unknown to your father or to me?”

“Where is the harm if he has?” answered Natalie, with a sudden outbreak of temper. “Am I never to see my cousin again, because Mr. Turlington happens to be jealous of him?”

She suddenly turned away her head. The rich color flowed over her face and neck. Miss Lavinia, proceeding sternly with the administration of the necessary reproof, was silenced midway by a new change in her niece’s variable temper. Natalie burst into tears. Satisfied with this appearance of sincere contrition, the old lady consented to overlook what had happened; and, for this occasion only, to keep her niece’s secret. They would all be in Somersetshire, she remarked, before any more breaches of discipline could be committed. Richard had fortunately made no disco veries; and the matter might safely be trusted, all things considered, to rest where it was.

Miss Lavinia might possibly have taken a less hopeful view of the circumstances, if she had known that one of the men-servants at Muswell Hill was in Richard Turlington’s pay, and that this servant had seen Launce leave the grounds by the back-garden gate.

NINTH SCENE.

The Drawing-Room.

“Amelia!”

“Say something.”

“Ask him to sit down.”

Thus addressing one another in whispers, the three stepdaughters of Lady Winwood stood bewildered in their own drawing-room, helplessly confronting an object which appeared before them on the threshold of the door.

The date was the 23d of December. The time was between two and three in the afternoon. The occasion was the return of the three sisters from the Committee meeting of the Sacred Concerts’ Society. And the object was Richard Turlington.

He stood hat in hand at the door, amazed by his reception. “I have come up this morning from Somersetshire,” he said. “Haven’t you heard? A matter of business at the office has forced me to leave my guests at my house in the country. I return to them to-morrow. When I say my guests, I mean the Graybrookes. Don’t you know they are staying with me? Sir Joseph and Miss Lavinia and Natalie?” On the utterance of Natalie’s name, the sisters roused themselves. They turned about and regarded each other with looks of dismay. Turlington’s patience began to fail him. “Will you be so good as to tell me what all this means?” he said, a little sharply. “Miss Lavinia asked me to call here when she heard I was coming to town. I was to take charge of a pattern for a dress, which she said you would give me. You ought to have received a telegram explaining it all, hours since. Has the message not reached you?”

The leading spirit of the three sisters was Miss Amelia. She was the first who summoned presence of mind enough to give a plain answer to Turlington’s plain question.

“We received the telegram this morning, “she said. “Something has happened since which has shocked and surprised us. We beg your pardon.” She turned to one of her sisters. “Sophia, the pattern is ready in the drawer of that table behind you. Give it to Mr. Turlington.”

Sophia produced the packet. Before she handed it to the visitor, she looked at her sister. “Ought we to let Mr. Turlington go,” she asked, “as if nothing had happened?”

Amelia considered silently with herself. Dorothea, the third sister (who had not spoken yet), came forward with a suggestion. She proposed, before proceeding further, to inquire whether Lady Winwood was in the house. The idea was instantly adopted. Sophia rang the bell. Amelia put the questions when the servant appeared.

Lady Winwood had left the house for a drive immediately after luncheon. Lord Winwood–inquired for next–had accompanied her ladyship. No message had been left indicating the hour of their return.

The sisters looked at Turlington, uncertain what to say or do next. Miss Amelia addressed him as soon as the servant had left the room.

“Is it possible for you to remain here until either my father or Lady Winwood return?” she asked.

“It is quite impossible. Minutes are of importance to me to-day.”

“Will you give us one of your minutes? We want to consider something which we may have to say to you before you go.”

Turlington, wondering, took a chair. Miss Amelia put the case before her sisters from the sternly conscientious point of view, at the opposite end of the room.

“We have not found out this abominable deception by any underhand means,” she said. “The discovery has been forced upon us, and we stand pledged to nobody to keep the secret. Knowing as we do how cruelly this gentleman has been used, it seems to me that we are bound in honor to open his eyes to the truth. If we remain silent we make ourselves Lady Winwood’s accomplices. I, for one– I don’t care what may come of it–refuse to do that.”

Her sisters agreed with her. The first chance their clever stepmother had given them of asserting their importance against hers was now in their hands. Their jealous hatred of Lady Winwood assumed the mask of Duty–duty toward an outraged and deceived fellow-creature. Could any earthly motive be purer than that? “Tell him, Amelia!” cried the two young ladies, with the headlong recklessness of the sex which only stops to think when the time for reflection has gone by.

A vague sense of something wrong began to stir uneasily in Turlington’s mind.

“Don’t let me hurry you,” he said, “but if you really have anything to tell me–“

Miss Amelia summoned her courage, and began.

“We have something very dreadful to tell you,” she said, interrupting him. “You have been presented in this house, Mr. Turlington, as a gentleman engaged to marry Lady Winwood’s cousin. Miss Natalie Graybrooke.” She paused there–at the outset of the disclosure. A sudden change of expression passed over Turlington’s face, which daunted her for the moment. “We have hitherto understood,” she went on, “that you were to be married to that young lady early in next month.”

“Well?”

He could say that one word. Looking at their pale faces, and their eager eyes, he could say no more.

“Take care!” whispered Dorothea, in her sister’s ear. “Look at him, Amelia! Not too soon.”

Amelia went on more carefully.

“We have just returned from a musical meeting,” she said. “One of the ladies there was an acquaintance, a former school-fellow of ours. She is the wife of the rector of St. Columb Major–a large church, far from this–at the East End of London.”

“I know nothing about the woman or the church,” interposed Turlington, sternly.

“I must beg you to wait a little. I can’t tell you what I want to tell you unless I refer to the rector’s wife. She knows Lady Winwood by name. And she heard of Lady Winwood recently under very strange circumstances–circumstances connected with a signature in one of the books of the church.”

Turlington lost his self-control. “You have got something against my Natalie,” he burst out; “I know it by your whispering, I see it in your looks! Say it at once in plain words.”

There was no trifling with him now. In plain words Amelia said it.

* * * * * * * * *

There was silence in the room. They could hear the sound of passing footsteps in the street. He stood perfectly still on the spot where they had struck him dumb by the disclosure, supporting himself with his right hand laid on the head of a sofa near him. The sisters drew back horror-struck into the furthest corner of the room. His face turned them cold. Through the mute misery which it had expressed at first, there appeared, slowly forcing its way to view, a look of deadly vengeance which froze them to the soul. They whispered feverishly one to the other, without knowing what they were talking of, without hearing their own voices. One of them said, “Ring the bell!” Another said, “Offer him something, he will faint.” The third shuddered, and repeated, over and over again, “Why did we do it? Why did we do it?”

He silenced them on the instant by speaking on his side. He came on slowly, by a step at a time, with the big drops of agony falling slowly over his rugged face. He said, in a hoarse whisper, “Write me down the name of the church–there.” He held out his open pocketbook to Amelia while he spoke. She steadied herself, and wrote the address. She tried to say a word to soften him. The word died on her lips. There was a light in his eyes as they looked at her which transfigured his face to something superhuman and devilish. She turned away from him, shuddering.

He put the book back in his pocket, and passed his handkerchief over his face. After a moment of indecision, he suddenly and swiftly stole out of the room, as if he was afraid of their calling somebody in, and stopping him. At the door he turned round for a moment, and said, “You will hear how this ends. I wish you good-morning.”

The door closed on him. Left by themselves, they began to realize it. They thought of the consequences when his back was turned and it was too late.

The Graybrookes! Now he knew it, what would become of the Graybrookes? What wou ld he do when he got back? Even at ordinary times–when he was on his best behavior–he was a rough man. What would happen? Oh, good God! what would happen when he and Natalie next stood face to face? It was a lonely house–Natalie had told them about it–no neighbors near; nobody by to interfere but the weak old father and the maiden aunt. Something ought to be done. Some steps ought to be taken to warn them. Advice–who could give advice? Who was the first person who ought to be told of what had happened? Lady Winwood? No! even at that crisis the sisters still shrank from their stepmother–still hated her with the old hatred! Not a word to _her!_ They owed no duty to _her!_ Who else could they appeal to? To their father? Yes! There was the person to advise them. In the meanwhile, silence toward their stepmother–silence toward every one till their father came back!

They waited and waited. One after another the precious hours, pregnant with the issues of life and death, followed each other on the dial. Lady Winwood returned alone. She had left her husband at the House of Lords. Dinner-time came, and brought with it a note from his lordship. There was a debate at the House. Lady Winwood and his daughters were not to wait dinner for him.

TENTH SCENE.

Green Anchor Lane.

An hour later than the time at which he had been expected, Richard Turlington appeared at his office in the city.

He met beforehand all the inquiries which the marked change in him must otherwise have provoked, by announcing that he was ill. Before he proceeded to business, he asked if anybody was waiting to see him. One of the servants from Muswell Hill was waiting with another parcel for Miss Lavinia, ordered by telegram from the country that morning. Turlington (after ascertaining the servant’s name) received the man in his private room. He there heard, for the first time, that Launcelot Linzie had been lurking in the grounds (exactly as he had supposed) on the day when the lawyer took his instructions for the Settlement and the Will.

In two hours more Turlington’s work was completed. On leaving the office–as soon as he was out of sight of the door–he turned eastward, instead of taking the way that led to his own house in town. Pursuing his course, he entered the labyrinth of streets which led, in that quarter of East London, to the unsavory neighborhood of the river-side.

By this time his mind was made up. The forecast shadow of meditated crime traveled before him already, as he threaded his way among his fellow-men.

He had been to the vestry of St. Columb Major, and had satisfied himself that he was misled by no false report. There was the entry in the Marriage Register. The one unexplained mystery was the mystery of Launce’s conduct in permitting his wife to return to her father’s house. Utterly unable to account for this proceeding, Turlington could only accept facts as they were, and determine to make the most of his time, while the woman who had deceived him was still under his roof. A hideous expression crossed his face as he realized the idea that he had got her (unprotected by her husband) in his house. “When Launcelot Linzie _does_ come to claim her,” he said to himself, “he shall find I have been even with him.” He looked at his watch. Was it possible to save the last train and get back that night? No–the last train had gone. Would she take advantage of his absence to escape? He had little fear of it. She would never have allowed her aunt to send him to Lord Winwood’s house, if she had felt the slightest suspicion of his discovering the truth in that quarter. Returning by the first train the next morning, he might feel sure of getting back in time. Meanwhile he had the hours of the night before him. He could give his mind to the serious question that must be settled before he left London–the question of repaying the forty thousand pounds. There was but one way of getting the money now. Sir Joseph had executed his Will; Sir Joseph’s death would leave his sole executor and trustee (the lawyer had said it!) master of his fortune. Turlington determined to be master of it in four-and-twenty hours–striking the blow, without risk to himself, by means of another hand. In the face of the probabilities, in the face of the facts, he had now firmly persuaded himself that Sir Joseph was privy to the fraud that had been practiced on him. The Marriage-Settlement, the Will, the presence of the family at his country house–all these he believed to be so many stratagems invented to keep him deceived until the last moment. The truth was in those words which he had overheard between Sir Joseph and Launce–and in Launce’s presence (privately encouraged, no doubt) at Muswell Hill. “Her father shall pay me for it doubly: with his purse and with his life.” With that thought in his heart, Richard Turlington wound his way through the streets by the river-side, and stopped at a blind alley called Green Anchor Lane, infamous to this day as the chosen resort of the most abandoned wretches whom London can produce.

The policeman at the corner cautioned him as he turned into the alley. “They won’t hurt _me!_” he answered, and walked on to a public-house at the bottom of the lane.

The landlord at the door silently recognized him, and led the way in. They crossed a room filled with sailors of all nations drinking; ascended a staircase at the back of the house, and stopped at the door of the room on the second floor. There the landlord spoke for the first time. “He has outrun his allowance, sir, as usual. You will find him with hardly a rag on his back. I doubt if he will last much longer. He had another fit of the horrors last night, and the doctor thinks badly of him.” With that introduction he opened the door, and Turlington entered the room.

On the miserable bed lay a gray-headed old man of gigantic stature, with nothing on him but a ragged shirt and a pair of patched, filthy trousers. At the side of the bed, with a bottle of gin on the rickety table between them, sat two hideous leering, painted monsters, wearing the dress of women. The smell of opium was in the room, as well as the smell of spirits. At Turlington’s appearance, the old man rose on the bed and welcomed him with greedy eyes and outstretched hand.

“Money, master!” he called out hoarsely. “A crown piece in advance, for the sake of old times!”

Turlington turned to the women without answering, purse in hand.

“His clothes are at the pawnbroker’s, of course. How much?”

“Thirty shillings.”

“Bring them here, and be quick about it. You will find it worth your while when you come back.”

The women took the pawnbroker’s tickets from the pockets of the man’s trousers and hurried out.

Turlington closed the door, and seated himself by the bedside. He laid his hand familiarly on the giant’s mighty shoulder, looked him full in the face, and said, in a whisper,

“Thomas Wildfang!”

The man started, and drew his huge hairy hand across his eyes, as if in doubt whether he was waking or sleeping. “It’s better than ten years, master, since you called me by my name. If I am Thomas Wildfang, what are you?”

“Your captain, once more.”

Thomas Wildfang sat up on the side of the bed, and spoke his next words cautiously in Turlington’s ear.

“Another man in the way?”

“Yes.”

The giant shook his bald, bestial head dolefully. “Too late. I’m past the job. Look here.”

He held up his hand, and showed it trembling incessantly. “I’m an old man,” he said, and let his hand drop heavily again on the bed beside him.

Turlington looked at the door, and whispered back,

“The man is as old as you are. And the money is worth having.”

“How much?”

“A hundred pounds.”

The eyes of Thomas Wildfang fastened greedily on Turlington’s face. “Let’s hear,” he said. “Softly, captain. Let’s hear.”

* * * * * * * * *

When the women came back with the clothes, Turlington had left the room. Their promised reward lay waiting for them on the table, and Thomas Wildfang was eager to dress himself and be gone. They could get but one answer from him to every question they put. He had business in hand, which was not to be delayed. They would see him again in a day or two, with money in his purse. With that assurance he took his cudgel from the corner of the room, and stalked out swiftly by the back door of the house into the night.

ELEVENTH SCENE.

Outside the House

The evening was chilly, but not cold for the time of year. There was no moon. The stars were out, and the wind was quiet. Upon the whole, the inhabitants of the little Somersetshire village of Baxdale agreed that it was as fine a Christmas-eve as they could remember for some years past.

Toward eight in the evening the one small street of the village was empty, except at that part of it which was occupied by the public-house. For the most part, people gathered round their firesides, with an eye to their suppers, and watched the process of cooking comfortably indoors. The old bare, gray church, situated at some little distance from the village, looked a lonelier object than usual in the dim starlight. The vicarage, nestling close under the shadow of the church-tower, threw no illumination of fire-light or candle-light on the dreary scene. The clergyman’s shutters fitted well, and the clergyman’s curtains were closely drawn. The one ray of light that cheered the wintry darkness streamed from the unguarded window of a lonely house, separated from the vicarage by the whole length of the church-yard. A man stood at the window, holding back the shutter, and looking out attentively over the dim void of the burial-ground. The man was Richard Turlington. The room in which he was watching was a room in his own house.

A momentary spark of light flashed up, as from a kindled match, in the burial-ground. Turlington instantly left the empty room in which he had been watching. Passing down the back garden of the house, and crossing a narrow lane at the bottom of it, he opened a gate in a low stone wall beyond, and entered the church- yard. The shadowy figure of a man of great stature, lurking among the graves, advanced to meet him. Midway in the dark and lonely place the two stopped and consulted together in whispers. Turlington spoke first.

“Have you taken up your quarters at the public-house in the village?”

“Yes, master.”

“Did you find your way, while the daylight lasted, to the deserted malt-house behind my orchard wall?”

“Yes, master.”

“Now listen–we have no time to lose. Hide there, behind that monument. Before nine o’clock to-night you will see me cross the churchyard, as far as this place, with the man you are to wait for. He is going to spend an hour with the vicar, at the house yonder. I shall stop short here, and say to him, ‘You can’t miss your way in the dark now–I will go back.’ When I am far enough away from him, I shall blow a call on my whistle. The moment you hear the call, follow the man, and drop him before he gets out of the church-yard. Have you got your cudgel?”

Thomas Wildfang held up his cudgel. Turlington took him by the arm, and felt it suspiciously.

“You have had an attack of the horrors already,” he said. “What does this trembling mean?”

He took a spirit-flask from his pocket as he spoke. Thomas Wildfang snatched it out of his hand, and emptied it at a draught. “All right now, master,” he said. Turlington felt his arm once more. It was steadier already. Wildfang brandished his cudgel, and struck a heavy blow with it on one of the turf mounds near them. “Will that drop him, captain?” he asked.

Turlington went on with his instructions.

“Rob him when you have dropped him. Take his money and his jewelry. I want to have the killing of him attributed to robbery as the motive. Make sure before you leave him that he is dead. Then go to the malt-house. There is no fear of your being seen; all the people will be indoors, keeping Christmas-eve. You will find a change of clothes hidden in the malt-house, and an old caldron full of quicklime. Destroy the clothes you have got on, and dress yourself in the other clothes that you find. Follow the cross-road, and when it brings you into the highroad, turn to the left; a four-mile walk will take you to the town of Harminster. Sleep there to-night, and travel to London by the train in the morning. The next day go to my office, see the head clerk, and say, ‘I have come to sign my receipt.’ Sign it in your own name, and you will receive your hundred pounds. There are your instructions. Do you understand them?”

Wildfang nodded his head in silent token that he understood, and disappeared again among the graves. Turlington went back to the house.

He had advanced midway across the garden, when he was startled by the sound of footsteps in the lane–at that part of it which skirted one of the corners of the house. Hastening forward, he placed himself behind a projection in the wall, so as to see the person pass across the stream of light from the uncovered window of the room that he had left. The stranger was walking rapidly. All Turlington could see as he crossed the field of light was, that his hat was pulled over his eyes, and that he had a thick beard and mustache. Describing the man to the servant on entering the house, he was informed that a stranger with a large beard had been seen about the neighborhood for some days past. The account he had given of himself stated that he was a surveyor, engaged in taking measurements for a new map of that part of the country, shortly to be published.

The guilty mind of Turlington was far from feeling satisfied with the meager description of the stranger thus rendered. He could not be engaged in surveying in the dark. What could he want in the desolate neighborhood of the house and church-yard at that time of night?

The man wanted–what the man found a little lower down the lane, hidden in a dismantled part of the church-yard wall–a letter from a young lady. Read by the light of the pocket-lantern which he carried with him, the letter first congratulated this person on the complete success of his disguise–and then promised that the writer would be ready at her bedroom window for flight the next morning, before the house was astir. The signature was “Natalie,” and the person addressed was “Dearest Launce.”

In the meanwhile, Turlington barred the window shutters of the room, and looked at his watch. It wanted only a quarter to nine o’clock. He took his dog-whistle from the chimney-piece, and turned his steps at once in the direction of the drawing-room, in which his guests were passing the evening.

TWELFTH SCENE.

Inside the House.

The scene in the drawing-room represented the ideal of domestic comfort. The fire of wood and coal mixed burned brightly; the lamps shed a soft glow of light; the solid shutters and the thick red curtains kept the cold night air on the outer side of two long windows, which opened on the back garden. Snug arm-chairs were placed in every part of the room. In one of them Sir Joseph reclined, fast asleep; in another, Miss Lavinia sat knitting; a third chair, apart from the rest, near a round table in one corner of the room, was occupied by Natalie. Her head was resting on her hand, an unread book lay open on her lap. She looked pale and harassed; anxiety and suspense had worn her down to the shadow of her former self. On entering the room, Turlington purposely closed the door with a bang. Natalie started. Miss Lavinia looked up reproachfully. The object was achieved–Sir Joseph was roused from his sleep.

“If you are going to the vicar’s to-night. Graybrooke,” said Turlington, “it’s time you were off, isn’t it?”

Sir Joseph rubbed his eyes, and looked at the clock on the mantel-piece. “Yes, yes, Richard,” he answered, drowsily, “I suppose I must go. Where is my hat?”

His sister and his daughter both joined in trying to persuade him to send an excuse instead of groping his way to the vicarage in the dark. Sir Joseph hesitated, as usual. He and the vicar had run up a sudden friendship, on the strength of their common enthusiasm for the old-fashioned game of backgammon. Victorious over his opponent on the previous evening at Turlington’s house, Sir Joseph had promised to pass that evening at the vicarage, and give the vicar his revenge. Observing his indecision, Turlington cunningly irritated
him by affecting to believe that he was really unwilling to venture out in the dark. “I’ll see you safe across the churchyard,” he said; “and the vicar’s servant will see you safe back.” The tone in which he spoke instantly roused Sir Joseph. “I am not in my second childhood yet, Richard,” he replied, testily. “I can find my way by myself.” He kissed his daughter on the forehead. “No fear, Natalie. I shall be back in time for the mulled claret. No, Richard, I won’t trouble you.” He kissed his hand to his sister and went out into the hall for his hat: Turlington following him with a rough apology, and asking as a favor to be permitted to accompany him part of the way only. The ladies, left behind in the drawing-room, heard the apology accepted by kind-hearted Sir Joseph. The two went out together.

“Have you noticed Richard since his return?” asked Miss Lavinia. “I fancy he must have heard bad news in London. He looks as if he had something on his mind.”

“I haven’t remarked it, aunt.”

For the time, no more was said. Miss Lavinia went monotonously on with her knitting. Natalie pursued her own anxious thoughts over the unread pages of the book in her lap. Suddenly the deep silence out of doors and in was broken by a shrill whistle, sounding from the direction of the church-yard. Natalie started with a faint cry of alarm. Miss Lavinia looked up from her knitting.

“My dear child, your nerves must be sadly out of order. What is there to be frightened at?”

“I am not very well, aunt. It is so still here at night, the slightest noises startle me.”

There was another interval of silence. It was past nine o’clock when they heard the back door opened and closed again. Turlington came hurriedly into the drawing-room, as if he had some reason for wishing to rejoin the ladies as soon as possible. To the surprise of both of them, he sat down abruptly in the corner, with his face to the wall, and took up the newspaper, without casting a look at them or uttering a word.

“Is Joseph safe at the vicarage?” asked Miss Lavinia.

“All right.” He gave the answer in a short, surly tone, still without looking round.

Miss Lavinia tried him again. “Did you hear a whistle while you were out? It quite startled Natalie in the stillness of this place.”

He turned half-way round. “My shepherd, I suppose,” he said after a pause–“whistling for his dog.” He turned back again and immersed himself in his newspaper.

Miss Lavinia beckoned to her niece and pointed significantly to Turlington. After one reluctant look at him, Natalie laid her head wearily on her aunt’s shoulder. “Sleepy, my dear?” whispered the old lady. “Uneasy, aunt–I don’t know why,” Natalie whispered back. “I would give the world to be in London, and to hear the carriages going by, and the people talking in the street.”

Turlington suddenly dropped his newspaper. “What’s the secret between you two?” he called out roughly. “What are you whispering about?”

“We wish not to disturb you over your reading, that is all,” said Miss Lavinia, coldly. “Has anything happened to vex you, Richard?”

“What the devil makes you think that?”

The old lady was offended, and showed it by saying nothing more. Natalie nestled closer to her aunt. One after another the clock ticked off the minutes with painful distinctness in the stillness of the room. Turlington suddenly threw aside the newspaper and left his corner. “Let’s be good friends!” he burst out, with a clumsy assumption of gayety. “This isn’t keeping Christmas-eve. Let’s talk and be sociable. Dearest Natalie!” He threw his arm roughly round Natalie, and drew her by main force away from her aunt. She turned deadly pale, and struggled to release herself. “I am suffering–I am ill–let me go!” He was deaf to her entreaties. “What! your husband that is to be, treated in this way? Mustn’t I have a kiss?–I will!” He held her closer with one hand, and, seizing her head with the other, tried to turn her lips to him. She resisted with the inbred nervous strength which the weakest woman living has in reserve when she is outraged. Half indignant, half terrified, at Turlington’s roughness, Miss Lavinia rose to interfere. In a moment more he would have had two women to overpower instead of one, when a noise outside the window suddenly suspended the ignoble struggle.

There was a sound of footsteps on the gravel-walk which ran between the house wall and the garden lawn. It was followed by a tap–a single faint tap, no more–on one of the panes of glass.

They all three stood still. For a moment more nothing was audible. Then there was a heavy shock, as of something falling outside. Then a groan, then another interval of silence–a long silence, interrupted no more.

Turlington’s arm dropped from Natalie. She drew back to her aunt. Looking at him instinctively, in the natural expectation that he would take the lead in penetrating the mystery of what had happened outside the window, the two women were thunderstruck to see that he was, to all appearance, even more startled and more helpless than they were. “Richard,” said Miss Lavinia, pointing to the window, “there is something wrong out there. See what it is.” He stood motionless, as if he had not heard her, his eyes fixed on the window, his face livid with terror.

The silence outside was broken once more; this time by a call for help.

A cry of horror burst from Natalie. The voice outside–rising wildly, then suddenly dying away again–was not entirely strange to _her_ ears. She tore aside the curtain. With voice and hand she roused her aunt to help her. The two lifted the heavy bar from its socket; they opened the shutters and the window. The cheerful light of the room flowed out over the body of a prostrate man, lying on his face. They turned the man over. Natalie lifted his head.

Her father!

His face was bedabbled with blood. A wound, a frightful wound, was visible on the side of his bare head, high above the ear. He looked at her, his eyes recognized her, before he fainted again in her arms. His hands and his clothes were covered with earth stains. He must have traversed some distance; in that dreadful condition he must have faltered and fallen more than once before he reached the house. His sister wiped the blood from his face. His daughter called on him frantically to forgive her before he died–the harmless, gentle, kind-hearted father, who had never said a hard word to her! The father whom she had deceived!

The terrified servants hurried into the room. Their appearance roused their master from the extraordinary stupor that had seized him. He was at the window before the footman could get there. The two lifted Sir Joseph into the room, and laid him on the sofa. Natalie knelt by him, supporting his head. Miss Lavinia stanched the flowing blood with her handkerchief. The women-servants brought linen and cold water. The man hurried away for the doctor, who lived on the other side of the village. Left alone again with Turlington, Natalie noticed that his eyes were fixed in immovable scrutiny on her father’s head. He never said a word. He looked, looked, looked at the wound.

The doctor arrived. Before either the daughter or the sister of the injured man could put the question, Turlington put it–“Will he live or die?”

The doctor’s careful finger probed the wound.

“Make your minds easy. A little lower down, or in front, the blow might have been serious. As it is, there is no harm done. Keep him quiet, and he will be all right again in two or three days.”

Hearing those welcome words, Natalie and her aunt sank on their knees in silent gratitude. After dressing the wound, the doctor looked round for the master of the house. Turlington, who had been so breathlessly eager but a few minutes since, seemed to have lost all interest in the case now. He stood apart, at the window, looking out toward the church-yard, thinking. The questions which it was the doctor’s duty to ask were answered by the ladies. The servants assisted in examining the injured man’s clothes: they discovered that his watch and purse were both missing. When it became necessary to carry him upstairs, it was the footman who assisted the doctor. The foot man’s master, without a word of explanation, walked out bare headed into the back garden, on the search, as the doctor and the servants supposed, for some trace of the robber who had attempted Sir Joseph’s life.

His absence was hardly noticed at the time. The difficulty of conveying the wounded man to his room absorbed the attention of all the persons present.

Sir Joseph partially recovered his senses while they were taking him up the steep and narrow stairs. Carefully as they carried the patient, the motion wrung a groan from him before they reached the top. The bedroom corridor, in the rambling, irregularly built house rose and fell on different levels. At the door of the first bedchamber the doctor asked a little anxiously if that was the room. No; there were three more stairs to go down, and a corner to turn, before they could reach it. The first room was Natalie’s. She instantly offered it for her father’s use. The doctor (seeing that it was the airiest as well as the nearest room) accepted the proposal. Sir Joseph had been laid comfortably in his daughter’s bed; the doctor had just left them, with renewed assurances that they need feel no anxiety, when they heard a heavy step below stairs. Turlington had re-entered the house.

(He had been looking, as they had supposed, for the ruffian who had attacked Sir Joseph; with a motive, however, for the search at which it was impossible for other persons to guess. His own safety was now bound up in the safety of Thomas Wildfang. As soon as he was out of sight in the darkness, he made straight for the malt-house. The change of clothes was there untouched; not a trace of his accomplice was to be seen. Where else to look for him it was impossible to tell. Turlington had no alternative but to go back to the house, and ascertain if suspicion had been aroused in his absence.)

He had only to ascend the stairs, and to see, through the open door, that Sir Joseph had been placed in his daughter’s room.

“What does this mean?” he asked, roughly.

Before it was possible to answer him the footman appeared with a message. The doctor had come back to the door to say that he would take on himself the necessary duty of informing the constable of what had happened, on his return to the village. Turlington started and changed color. If Wildfang was found by others, and questioned in his employer’s absence, serious consequences might follow. “The constable is my business,” said Turlington, hurriedly descending the stairs; “I’ll go with the doctor.” They heard him open the door below, then close it again (as if some sudden thought had struck him), and call to the footman. The house was badly provided with servants’ bedrooms. The women-servants only slept indoors. The footman occupied a room over the stables. Natalie and her aunt heard Turlington dismiss the man for the night, an hour earlier than usual at least. His next proceeding was stranger still. Looking cautiously over the stairs, Natalie saw him lock all the doors on the ground-floor and take out the keys. When he went away, she heard him lock the front door behind him. Incredible as it seemed, there could be no doubt of the fact–the inmates of the house were imprisoned till he came back. What did it mean?

(It meant that Turlington’s vengeance still remained to be wreaked on the woman who had deceived him. It meant that Sir Joseph’s life still stood between the man who had compassed his death and the money which the man was resolved to have. It meant that Richard Turlington was driven to bay, and that the horror and the peril of the night were not at an end yet.)

Natalie and her aunt looked at each other across the bed on which Sir Joseph lay. He had fallen into a kind of doze; no enlightenment could come to them from _him_. They could only ask each other, with beating hearts and baffled minds, what Richard’s conduct meant–they could only feel instinctively that some dreadful discovery was hanging over them. The aunt was the calmer of the two–there was no secret weighing heavily on _her_ conscience. _She_ could feel the consolations of religion. “Our dear one is spared to us, my love,” said the old lady, gently. “God has been good to us. We are in his hands. If we know that, we know enough.”

As she spoke there was a loud ring at the doorbell. The women-servants crowded into the bedroom in alarm. Strong in numbers, and encouraged by Natalie–who roused herself and led the way– they confronted the risk of opening the window and of venturing out on the balcony which extended along that side of the house. A man was dimly visible below. He called to them in thick, unsteady accents. The servants recognized him: he was the telegraphic messenger from the railway. They went down to speak to him–and returned with a telegram which had been pushed in under the door. The distance from the station was considerable; the messenger had been “keeping Christmas” in more than one beer- shop on his way to the house; and the delivery of the telegram had been delayed for some hours. It was addressed to Natalie. She opened it–looked at it–dropped it–and stood speechless; her lips parted in horror, her eyes staring vacantly straight before her.

Miss Lavinia took the telegram from the floor, and read these lines:

“Lady Winwood, Hertford Street, London. To Natalie Graybrooke, Church Meadows, Baxdale, Somersetshire. Dreadful news. R. T. has discovered your marriage to Launce. The truth has been kept from me till to-day (24th). Instant flight with your husband is your only chance. I would have communicated with Launce, but I do not know his address. You will receive this, I hope and believe, before R. T. can return to Somersetshire. Telegraph back, I entreat you, to say that you are safe. I shall follow my message if I do not hear from you in reasonable time.”

Miss Lavinia lifted her gray head, and looked at her niece. “Is this true?” she said–and pointed to the venerable face laid back, white, on the white pillow of the bed. Natalie sank forward as her eyes met the eyes of her aunt. Miss Lavinia saved her from falling insensible on the floor.

* * * * * * * * *

The confession had been made. The words of penitence and the words of pardon had been spoken. The peaceful face of the father still lay hushed in rest. One by one the minutes succeeded each other uneventfully in the deep tranquillity of the night. It was almost a relief when the silence was disturbed once more by another sound outside the house. A pebble was thrown up at the window, and a voice called out cautiously, “Miss Lavinia!”

They recognized the voice of the man-servant, and at once opened the window.

He had something to say to the ladies in private. How could he say it? A domestic circumstance which had been marked by Launce, as favorable to the contemplated elopement, was now noticed by the servant as lending itself readily to effecting the necessary communication with the ladies. The lock of the gardener’s tool-house (in the shrubbery close by) was under repair; and the gardener’s ladder was accessible to any one who wanted it. At the short height of the balcony from the ground, the ladder was more than long enough for the purpose required. In a few minutes the servant had mounted to the balcony, and could speak to Natalie and her aunt at the window.

“I can’t rest quiet,” said the man, “I’m off on the sly to see what’s going on down in the village. It’s hard on ladies like you to be locked in here. Is there anything I can do for either of you?”

Natalie took up Lady Winwood’s telegram. “Launce ought to see this,” she said to her aunt. “He will be here at daybreak,” she added, in a whisper, “if I don’t tell him what has happened.”

Miss Lavinia turned pale. “If he and Richard meet–” she began. “Tell him!” she added, hurriedly–“tell him before it is too late!”

Natalie wrote a few lines (addressed to Launce in his assumed name at his lodgings in the village) inclosing Lady Winwood’s telegram, and entreating him to do nothing rash. When the servant had disappeared with the letter, there was one hope in her mind and in her aunt’s mind, which each was ashamed to acknowledge to the other –the hope that Launce would face the very danger that they dreaded for him, and come to the house.

They had not been long alone again, when Sir Joseph drowsily opened his eyes and asked what they were doing in his room. They told him gently that he was ill. He put his hand up to his head, and said they were right, and so dropped off again into slumber. Worn out by the emotions through which they had passed, the two women silently waited for the march of events. The same stupor of resignation possessed them both. They had secured the door and the window. They had prayed together. They had kissed the quiet face on the pillow. They had said to each other, “We will live with him or die with him as God pleases.” Miss Lavinia sat by the bedside. Natalie was on a stool at her feet–with her eyes closed, and her head on her aunt’s knee.

Time went on. The clock in the hall had struck–ten or eleven, they were not sure which–when they heard the signal which warned them of the servant’s return from the village. He brought news, and more than news; he brought a letter from Launce.

Natalie read these lines:

“I shall be with you, dearest, almost as soon as you receive this. The bearer will tell you what has happened in the village– your note throws a new light on it all. I only remain behind to go to the vicar (who is also the magistrate here), and declare myself your husband. All disguise must be at an end now. My place is with you and yours. It is even worse than your worst fears. Turlington was at the bottom of the attack on your father. Judge if you have not need of your husband’s protection after that!–L.”

Natalie handed the letter to her aunt, and pointed to the sentence which asserted Turlington’s guilty knowledge of the attempt on Sir Joseph’s life. In silent horror the two women looked at each other, recalling what had happened earlier in the evening, and understanding it now. The servant roused them to a sense of present things, by entering on the narrative of his discoveries in the village.

The place was all astir when he reached it. An old man–a stranger in Baxdale–had been found lying in the road, close to the church, in a fit; and the person who had discovered him had been no other than Launce himself. He had, literally, stumbled over the body of Thomas Wildfang in the dark, on his way back to his lodgings in the village.

“The gentleman gave the alarm, miss,” said the servant, describing the event, as it had been related to him, “and the man–a huge, big old man–was carried to the inn. The landlord identified him; he had taken lodgings at the inn that day, and the constable found valuable property on him–a purse of money and a gold watch and chain. There was nothing to show who the money and the watch belonged to. It was only when my master and the doctor got to the inn that it was known whom he had robbed and tried to murder. All he let out in his wanderings before they came was that some person had set him on to do it. He called the person ‘Captain,’ and sometimes ‘Captain Goward.’ It was thought–if you could trust the ravings of a madman–that the fit took him while he was putting his hand on Sir Joseph’s heart to feel if it had stopped beating. A sort of vision (as I understand it) must have overpowered him at the moment. They tell me he raved about the sea bursting into the church yard, and a drowning sailor floating by on a hen-coop; a sailor who dragged him down to hell by the hair of his head, and such like horrible nonsense, miss. He was still screeching, at the worst of the fit, when my master and the doctor came into the room. At sight of one or other of them–it is thought of Mr. Turlington, seeing that he came first–he held his peace on a sudden, and then fell back in convulsions in the arms of the men who were holding him. The doctor gave it a learned name, signifying drink-madness, and said the case was hopeless. However, he ordered the room to be cleared of the crowd to see what be could do. My master was reported to be still with the doctor, waiting to see whether the man lived or died, when I left the village, miss, with the gentleman’s answer to your note. I didn’t dare stay to hear how it ended, for fear of Mr. Turlington’s finding me out.”

Having reached the end of his narrative, the man looked round restlessly toward the window. It was impossible to say when his master might not return, and it might be as much as his life was worth to be caught in the house after he had been locked out of it. He begged permission to open the window, and make his escape back to the stables while there was still time. As he unbarred the shutter they were startled by a voice hailing them from below. It was Launce’s voice calling to Natalie. The servant disappeared, and Natalie was in Launce’s arms before she could breathe again.

For one delicious moment she let her head lie on his breast; then she suddenly pushed him away from her. “Why do you come here? He will kill you if he finds you in the house. Where is he?”

Launce knew even less of Turlington’s movements than the servant. “Wherever he is, thank God, I am here before him!” That was all the answer he could give.

Natalie and her aunt heard him in silent dismay. Sir Joseph woke, and recognized Launce before a word more could be said. “Ah, my dear boy!” he murmured, faintly. “It’s pleasant to see you again. How do you come here?” He was quite satisfied with the first excuse that suggested itself. “We’ll talk about it to- morrow,” he said, and composed himself to rest again.

Natalie made a second attempt to persuade Launce to leave the house.

“We don’t know what may have happened,” she said. “He may have followed you on your way here. He may have purposely let you enter his house. Leave us while you have the chance.”

Miss Lavinia added her persuasions. They were useless. Launce quietly closed the heavy window-shutters, lined with iron, and put up the bar. Natalie wrung her hands in despair.

“Have you been to the magistrate?” she asked. “Tell us, at least, are you here by his advice? Is he coming to help us?”

Launce hesitated. If he had told the truth, he must have acknowledged that he was there in direct opposition to the magistrate’s advice. He answered evasively, “If the vicar doesn’t come, the doctor will. I have told him Sir Joseph must he moved. Cheer up, Natalie! The doctor will be here as soon as Turlington.”

As the name passed his lips–without a sound outside to prepare them for what was coming–the voice of Turlington himself suddenly penetrated into the room, speaking close behind the window, on the outer side.

“You have broken into my house in the night,” said the voice. “And you don’t escape _this_ way.”

Miss Lavinia sank on her knees. Natalie flew to her father. His eyes were wide open in terror; he moaned, feebly recognizing the voice. The next sound that was heard was the sound made by the removal of the ladder from the balcony. Turlington, having descended by it, had taken it away. Natalie had but too accurately guessed what would happen. The death of the villain’s accomplice had freed him from all apprehension in that quarter. He had deliberately dogged Launce’s steps, and had deliberately allowed him to put himself in the wrong by effecting a secret entrance into the house.

There was an interval–a horrible interval–and then they heard the front door opened. Without stopping (judging by the absence of sound) to close it again, Turlington rapidly ascended the stairs and tried the locked door.

“Come out, and give yourself up!” he called through the door. “I have got my revolver with me, and I have a right to fire on a man who has broken into my house. If the door isn’t opened before I count three, your blood be on your own head. One!”

Launce was armed with nothing but his stick. He advanced, without an instant’s hesitation, to give himself up. Natalie threw her arms round him and clasped him fast before he could reach the door.

“Two!” cried the voice outside, as Launce struggled to force her from him. At the same moment his eye turned toward the bed. It was exactly opposite the door–it was straight in the line of fire! Sir Joseph’ s life (as Turlington had deliberately calculated) was actually in greater danger than Launce’s life. He tore himself free, rushed to the bed, and took the old man in his arms to lift him out.

“Three!”

The crash of the report sounded. The bullet came through the door, grazed Launce’s left arm, and buried itself in the pillow, at the very place on which Sir Joseph’s head had rested the moment before. Launce had saved his father-in-law’s life. Turlington had fired his first shot for the money, and had not got it yet.

They were safe in the corner of the room, on the same side as the door–Sir Joseph, helpless as a child, in Launce’s arms; the women pale, but admirably calm. They were safe for the moment, when the second bullet (fired at an angle) tore its way through the wall on their right hand.

“I hear you,” cried the voice of the miscreant on the other side of the door. “I’ll have you yet–through the wall.”

There was a pause. They heard his hand sounding the wall, to find out where there was solid wood in the material of which it was built, and where there was plaster only. At that dreadful moment Launce’s composure never left him. He laid Sir Joseph softly on the floor, and signed to Natalie and her aunt to lie down by him in silence. Their lives depended now on neither their voices nor their movements telling the murderer where to fire. He chose his place. The barrel of the revolver grated as he laid it against the wall. He touched the hair trigger. A faint _click_ was the only sound that followed. The third barrel had missed fire.

They heard him ask himself, with an oath, “What’s wrong with it now?”

There was a pause of silence.

Was he examining the weapon?

Before they could ask themselves the question, the report of the exploding charge burst on their ears. It was instantly followed by a heavy fall. They looked at the opposite wall of the room. No sign of a bullet there or anywhere.

Launce signed to them not to move yet. They waited, and listened. Nothing stirred on the landing outside.

Suddenly there was a disturbance of the silence in the lower regions–a clamor of many voices at the open house door. Had the firing of the revolver been heard at the vicarage? Yes! They recognized the vicar’s voice among the others. A moment more, and they heard a general exclamation of horror on the stairs. Launce opened the door of the room. He instantly closed it again before Natalie could follow him.

The dead body of Turlington lay on the landing outside. The charge in the fourth barrel of the revolver had exploded while he was looking at it. The bullet had entered his mouth and killed him on the spot.

DOCUMENTARY HINTS, IN CONCLUSION.

First Hint.

(Derived from Lady Winwood’s Card-Rack.)

“Sir Joseph Graybrooke and Miss Graybrooke request the honor of Lord and Lady Winwood’s company to dinner, on Wednesday, February 10, at half-past seven o’clock. To meet Mr. and Mrs. Launcelot Linzie on their return.”

Second Hint.

(Derived from a recent Money Article in morning Newspaper.)

“We are requested to give the fullest contradiction to unfavorable rumors lately in circulation respecting the firm of Pizzituti, Turlington, and Branca. Some temporary derangement in the machinery of the business was undoubtedly produced in consequence of the sudden death of the lamented managing partner, Mr. Turlington, by the accidental discharge of a revolver which he was examining. Whatever temporary obstacles may have existed are now overcome. We are informed, on good authority, that the well-known house of Messrs. Bulpit Brothers has an interest in the business, and will carry it on until further notice.”